Scientific Breeding in Central Europe during the Early Nineteenth Century: Background to Mendel's Later Work [Book Review]

Journal of the History of Biology 38 (2):239 - 272 (2005)
Abstract
Efforts to bring science into early 19th century breeding practices in Central Europe, organised from Brno, the Hapsburg city in which Mendel would later turn breeding experiments into a body of timeless theory, are here considered as a significant prelude to the great discovery. During those years prior to Mendel's arrival in Brno, enlightened breeders were seeking ways to regulate the process of heredity, which they viewed as a force to be controlled. Many were specialising in sheep breeding for the benefit of the local wool industry while others were showing an interest in commercial plants, especially fruit trees and vines, and later cereals. Breeders explained their problems in regulating heredity in terms of (1) climatic influences (2) disruption due to crossing (3) sports or saltations. Practical experience led them to the concepts of 'inheritance capacity' and the 'mutual elective affinity' of parents. The former was seen to differ among individuals and also among traits; the latter was proposed as a means of adding strength to heredity. The breeders came to recognise that traits might be hidden and yet transmitted as a 'potential' to future generations. They also grew to understand that heredity would be strengthened when a quality was 'fixed' within a lineage by 'pure blood relations.' Continued selection of the desired quality might then lead to 'a higher perfection.' But the ultimate 'physiological' question about breeding, 'what is inherited and how?,' found no answer. Major figures in this development included Abbot Napp, the one who asked this question and who was due to receive Mendel into the monastery in 1843, and Professor Diebl whose lectures on agriculture and natural science at the Brno Philosophical Institute Mendel would attend in 1846. Here we analyse their progress in theorizing about breeding up until about 1840. In discussing this development, we refer to certain international contacts, especially with respect to information transfer and scientific education, within the wider context of the late Enlightenment.
Keywords André  Bartenstein  breeding  Brno  Diebl  Enlightenment  fruit  genetic laws  heredity  inheritance capacity  Mendel  Moravia  Napp  Nestler  sheep  vines
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